Fantasy time is over for Celtics fans as for the second straight year, post-Fourth of July has brought a period of reality.
Last year, there was the flirtation with Kevin Durant – but Celtics fans settled for an offseason highlighted by the addition of free agent Al Horford. This year, there was the flirtation with Paul George, but Celtics fans will now have to settle for an offseason highlighted by the addition of Gordon Hayward.
So the Celtics did not win the NBA offseason, but they did get substantially better. Better enough that I actually think they can beat LeBron and the Cavaliers next spring (the Cavs are an absolute Poop Show right now).
As always, however, the barometer in Boston is winning championships and the C’s just aren’t going to win a championship (i.e. possess enough talent to topple Golden State) as presently constructed. They need yet another superstar player to compete with the unfair Warriors.
Money is already an issue for the Celtics as the NBA salary cap did not jump as high this summer as most expected. That’s why Danny Ainge’s days of landing a max player in free agency are probably over for the foreseeable future. It’s also why the Celtics have been unable to swing a deal for a player of George’s caliber.
Yes, there will be big names that arise in trade talks in the coming months, but for now the market is dry for the Celtics when it comes to swinging a blockbuster.
So forget trades for a bit. In fact, the Celtics may be able to get to the next level by not even making a monster deal.
The easiest way for the Celtics to add that final superstar piece to the puzzle will come in-house, as Ainge is likely banking on Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum or whomever they draft with the 2018 Brooklyn pick to become a bona fide top 15 player in the next few years. Yeah, it would be nice if all of them became perennial All-Stars, but that’s just not realistic. Drafting players, even with high picks, remains mostly a crapshoot. Ainge knows this, and that’s why he wanted to have three or four swings at this thing.
While the conventional wisdom a few years back was that Ainge was going trade away one – if not all – of the Brooklyn picks, it looks like he has chosen to build through the draft much like Golden State (initially) did. The thinking here is that one of these young lottery picks will blossom into something very special, and will do so with a relatively cheap rookie contract.
What’s quite interesting is that in attempting to build a title team this time around (as opposed to the quick fix worst to first teams of 2007 and 2008), Ainge has had his reservations about giving up draft picks in exchange for proven talent. He’s opted to instead get All-Star level players through free agency, mostly because he doesn’t have to give up anything (except money). Not that Gordon Hayward is on the level of Kevin Garnett, but Ainge essentially just got this decade’s franchise player without having to give up an Al Jefferson (gotta think Brown or Tatum will be as good or better as Big Al has been in the NBA these last 10 years).
So the Celtics are essentially looking to have their cake and eat it too. Time will tell if that cake will taste as good as the one that was whipped up in the Bay Area several years back.